by: Denise Robinson
An Attitude of Thanksgiving
Matthew 6:25-34; Col. 3:1-4, 12-17
As a product of my times, I learned the history of Thanksgiving from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special which first aired on November 20, 1973. Grammar, of course, I learned from Schoolhouse Rock (a noun is a person, place, or things and conjunctions have functions!); my legal education began there as well when I was introduced to a little bill sitting on Capitol Hill who hoped one day to be a law. My education was complete! From Charlie Brown, I was taught that after a hard first winter in Plymouth, the Pilgrims, aided by the local Native American community (although that’s not what they were called), survived to plant crops and then collect a mighty harvest. Filled with gratitude for having survived, the Pilgrims threw the first Thanksgiving dinner. They invited their Native American friends (there were 90 of them, if I’m not mistaken), who brought more food. And together, at a big table overflowing with turkeys, cranberries, pumpkin pie and green bean casserole (disclaimer: I added that last one), they had a happy feast with one another. And because of that, every November we do the same. And it certainly seemed to me like the show was saying this had been the case every November from 1621 to present. Later I learned it didn’t exactly happen that way; history has a way of complicating a great TV special.
The truth of the Thanksgiving story notwithstanding, this is the season when, more than at any other time, we think about gratitude a lot. We think about what it means to give thanks, and that’s a good thing. But there’s something that we as Christians need to remember, and that is that Thanksgiving is not actually a Christian holiday; it’s actually a national holiday. We celebrate it in November. Other countries have something similar that is all their own. Canadians have their Thanksgiving in October, for instance. Now, I’m not saying this to be negative. I’m saying this to remind us that as Christians, every day should be Thanksgiving. Every single day should be one where we run back to Jesus, fall down in awe, and say “thank you for everything”. We don’t need a holiday for that.
Today we wrap up our gratitude sermon series and move into Advent. The series began by encouraging us to adopt an attitude of gratitude. An attitude where we give thanks to God for all we have been given, for all the people who have been placed in our lives, for God’s presence with us, for the gift of salvation, and for the promise of what is to come. Gratitude then, we learned, leads to an attitude of generosity, of giving. As we recognize how much we have received, we give generously in gratitude. Gratitude and generosity merge together and culminate in an attitude of thanksgiving. Gratitude looks to the past and present; thanksgiving looks also to the future. Thanksgiving occurs in every situation we face. Thanksgiving comes with expectations – that God will keep His promises. Thanksgiving stands on a foundation which says that nothing is impossible for our God. Our lives as Christians should be characterized by thanksgiving. It’s our secret “code” word. “How are you doing today?” “I’m thankful!”
In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus is speaking to a crowd and he says to them, “Don’t worry.” Don’t worry about your present or your future. God takes care of the birds; don’t you realize He will take even greater care of you? God has us covered. Have faith, Jesus says. Strive/work for the kingdom of God. Let God handle the rest.
The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in Colossians 3, beginning with verses 1-4 (READ). In these verses, Paul makes it clear we’re not to adopt a “don’t worry” attitude and ignore the world around us. We do live in this world and we are a part of it. We’re not supposed to just sit around and contemplate eternity. We live here, work here, love here, dream here, have family and friends here. But there is a difference – we are to view everything that happens here against the backdrop of eternity. We no longer live as though this world is all that matters. We expect more. We give thanks to God and we give to others.
So, what does a life of thanksgiving look like? Paul tells us in Colossians 3:12-17. (READ). First, we get a new wardrobe. Gone are the clothing we have worn too long: fear, anxiety, worry, self-centeredness, pride. Our new clothing consists of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Second, we get a new outlook. We treat ourselves and we treat others differently. We bear with one another, forgive one another, love one another, and seek harmony with one another. Third, we get a new attitude. Our new attitude is one of peace, thankfulness, and gratitude. Fourth, we have a new purpose. Verse 17 explains our purpose: “Whatever you do, by word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God.”
What we discover, as we walked the Gratitude Path, is that it never ends. We are walking in a circle, caught up in a loop, where gratitude leads to generosity, which produces greater gratitude manifesting in yet more generosity – all driven by our attitude of thanksgiving.
Years after watching and re-watching those Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials, I learned historical truths. That Thanksgiving is not a 400-year old tradition. The Pilgrims were very religious people, and so they probably did have some kind of celebratory meal back in 1621 to thank God for the harvest. The Native Americans were probably not invited, by the way. George Washington tried to start a tradition, but Thomas Jefferson, who believed in a strict separation of church and state, didn’t think there should be a national holiday that gave thanks to God, and so he ended it. But then, in 1863, another President, Abraham Lincoln, wanted to give thanks for the Union victory at Gettysburg that, despite the massive casualties on both sides, had turned the tide of the war. And so, he proclaimed that every fourth Thursday of November would be known as Thanksgiving Day. The stories of a first Thanksgiving, before national upheaval and division, and embellished a little with Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting side by side, held special meaning for a nation divided into North and South. The holiday became a tradition.
I don’t know whether Charles Schultz knew the real story when he wrote about Charlie Brown and the Thanksgiving dinner he prepared for his friends. But what I have heard is that Schultz was a Christian who taught Sunday School for decades and often led Bible studies in his church. His specials and cartoons have scriptural references from Luke to Deuteronomy to Ecclesiastes to the Gospel of John. And in his Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, Schultz offers a message. You see, Charlie Brow, being a child, though one who seems routinely unsupervised by any kind of adults whatsoever, can’t make a turkey. Instead he serves his friends toast, popcorn, and jelly beans. Sitting down at the table, Peppermint Patty, who had invited herself over, is less than impressed. Where’s the turkey? The mashed potatoes? The cranberry sauce? The pumpkin pie? What follows is a reminder of what it means to be grateful, even when your plate only has toast and jelly beans. One of the friends, I don’t recall which, reminds them to just be thankful that they are together.
In the end, what we’ve been talking about is attitude. So, where’s my question for you: Do you need an attitude adjustment? It begins, as Paul says, with being thankful and giving thanks to God. Then serving God by giving. Turning thanksgiving into a habit instead of a holiday. Thanksgiving is a day for all of us to stop running, and to take a seat at a table that is big enough for all. It’s a time for us to reflect on what God has given us, and it’s a time to say “thank you”. May we never take the gifts of grace and salvation – or the One who gives them to us – for granted.